If They Knew How Far I’ve Come.
I did it. Today I completed the New Jersey State Triathlon, and I did it faster than I dreamed I could. I’m incredibly proud of finishing, and even prouder of my time. A long, difficult morning in the sun and heat, starting with a practice swim. My Olympic Triathlon race recap:
I went in the water for a practice 200-300 yards, because naturally I had forgotten my goggles and had to buy new ones at the expo. And they started leaking immediately. I kind of panicked. I didn’t think they’d work, but then I found I could give them a “burp” like tupperware, and they didn’t leak. I was briefly concerned that I shouldn’t have swum so far to practice, but it was what it was.
My swim wave was one of the later ones, so BB and I hunkered down on a hill and waited and watched. When my time came, I herded into the water with about 120 other men aged 40-44. The announcer howled and off we went in a surge. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, but my goggles held and I found a rhythm. I took a line a little off the buoy string and sighted every four or five strokes. After about 700 meters, my lower back hurt a bit, but you can’t stop and stretch in the water. I swam.
It was crowded and I was kicked and slapped several times, but I did my fair share of kicking and slapping too. The course wasn’t difficult to navigate, and I found myself keeping a good time. Eventually, the faster swimmers from the group behind me overtook me, but I made the beach in 39 minutes, far faster than I expected to, or had practiced.
The transition was pretty straightforward. There weren’t many bikes left in my section, meaning exactly what I’d expected: I was slow (even at my unexpectedly fast pace) for my age group. I dressed, threw on my helmet, slugged down my gatorade, and ran my bike to the mounting line. I swung my leg over and started riding.
My race plan was to push harder on the bike, so that I could start the run earlier, and hopefully stave off some of the brutal heat (it was 84 degrees when I left the water). I found a good stroke, and set my watch to show my average speed. I found I could keep it right around 18 miles per hour and felt really good about that. It was a flat course with only a few shallow, short climbs.
I worried about infractions and drafting a bit, but found it wasn’t that big a deal. I was able to pass when I needed to pass, and some people rode past me like I was standing still. I started to tire a bit by mile 14 or 15, but my legs stayed strong even though they were tired. The 20 miles took me about 65 minutes, a full five minutes less than my optimistic pre-race plan of 70.
I cruised into the transition again, realized I’d forgotten to take on salt after the swim and slugged down a couple of salt stick pills. I had taken on about 200 calories of peanut butter/fig bar on the ride, along with 20 oz of gatorade. I rushed out of transition and realized I’d forgotten my bib. I spun back around and tied it on, and got out on the run course. Each transition was between 4 and 5 minutes.
The run. It was 86 degrees when I started. Not too humid. And the run course had periodic areas of shade. Lots of support. Lots of kids who were glad to heave ice water at me as I ran by and shouted, “HIT ME!”. My legs felt like jelly, but I got myself going and kept it up. My first mile was a 9:44, but I didn’t keep that up. I slowed down throughout the course, finally turning in a 68 minute run that hurt, and never turned into feeling like a real run. Just a stiff-legged shuffle that got me to the end.
As I came in to the finish, I started to tear up a bit. The announcer called my name, and I thought, “If they knew how far I’ve come.” I’ve come a long, long way. From chronic, suicide drunk, smoker, obese, to now a marathoner and triathlete. It’s been a long journey, and I have further yet to go. Which made this tweet from my friend Katiesci all the more poignant to me:
@Dr24hours So awesome!! You’ve come so freaking far. Congrats!!
— Dr. Katiesci (@katiesci) July 24, 2016
This, dear readers, is how you acknowledge the effort of a person in recovery without stigmatizing. Without that saccharine condescension inherent in “good for you”, that tells alcoholics in recovery that they ought to be incompetent, that their achievement is only adequate for someone with massive disadvantages inherent to their selves and capacities. This is the right way to congratulate us: we have come far. We had a long way to come.
I was congratulated at the finish line, three hours and three minutes after I started, by a number of people who I’d spoken to, who knew it was my first triathlon. They bumped fists with me and told me I’d run a good race. If they only knew how far I’ve come.
BB ran about as far as I did, racing all over the course to show up and cheer for me. And even hugging me at the end even though I was drenched in sweat and lakewater. And then we headed home. I’m home now, and ready to sleep. I’ve earned it. I’ve come a long way.